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Tennis Player Swings Back At Arthritis

BYU-Hawaii freshman Hailey Daniels doesn't let rheumatoid arthritis stop her  PHOTO FROM HAILEY DANIELS

BYU-Hawaii freshman Hailey Daniels doesn’t let rheumatoid arthritis stop her

College student-athletes are supposed to worry about making grades, making the team and performing at the highest level possible. Hailey Daniels, a freshman tennis player for nationally ranked BYU-Hawaii, has a much bigger worry. She’s concerned about whether she’ll even be walking by the end of her college career.

Daniels suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating affliction of the joints. It’s mostly associated with the elderly, but it also hits about 300,000 young people in the U.S each year. “When I was first diagnosed (during her sophomore year in high school in Utah), I was like ‘What?! I only thought old people get this!’ But I found out with my work with Arthritis Foundation that children are impacted, too,” Daniels says. “The doctor said I had an aggressive form of the disease and could be in a wheelchair within months. He started me on medication immediately.”

“Sometimes I see her in pain and I ask if she wants to let up, but she won’t back down,” says her coach Dave Porter. “She’s the most positive, uplifting player I know.”

With a positive attitude, a strict diet and the proper medication, Daniels’ disease went into remission by her senior year in high school. She finished runner-up in the Utah state championships and earned academic all-state honors.

“It came back again this year and it got really rough,” she says. “I contemplated giving up playing tennis because it took so much energy just doing simple things like getting ready for school, walking to class, making meals and doing homework. But I find that I’m energized by practice (and) my teammates motivate me.”

Playing through the pain on the bad days and energized by the good days, Daniels has played sparingly in competition, but still holds an undefeated record in the five matches she’s played when inserted in the Seasider lineup.

“My body can’t do everything, but all I want to do is contribute as much as possible,” she says.

Appreciating her hard work and positive nature, Coach Porter rewarded her with a trip to the recent PacWest Championships in Surprise, Ariz. Daniels didn’t play, but she cheered on her teammates as they won the conference title. Next stop is the NCAA national championships, also in Arizona.

She plans to go on her LDS mission after nationals, and hopes if her condition doesn’t worsen that she’ll be back playing tennis at BYU-Hawaii again in the spring of 2017. She knows there are no guarantees, but she remains upbeat. In the meantime, she’s majoring in exercise science and planning a career in physical therapy, while trying to help other young people by writing a book about her experiences.

“I love interacting with people and talking with others who are going through this. Seeing and talking with others who are in wheelchairs motivates me. I’m so inspired by them,” she says. “I’m working with the Arthritis Foundation to tell their stories, and mine, too, through a personal documentary. I’ve learned that conditions vary case by case, but hopefully through this process I can help others. That’s my dream.”

Through her positive mind-set and taking it one day at a time, Hailey Daniels has become a role model for so many.

“I’m blessed I’m still able to play tennis,” she says. “There are others who have it much worse, so I want to push through it every day. My strength is in my heart.”